Learning to say no at work

Learning to say no at work is an Emotional Intelligence essential

We are often afraid of the consequences of saying “no” because we see compliance as part of our role, for example in family matters. Other times we may feel that non-compliance will come at too high a price, e.g. you may not get that promotion or worse, lose the account or even your job. We have the right to say no to any request, but our beliefs may be hampering our ability to be self-assertive. We may believe it is bad manners to say “no” or may hold irrational beliefs about saying “no”, e.g. everybody must like me otherwise I am not okay. Setting boundaries is an important part of learning to say no. Boundaries give us a feeling of ownership and responsibility. We set external boundaries to show people where we stand and what kind of behaviour we will allow. Our internal boundaries help us say “no”. We need to communicate our boundaries clearly to people as it brings security and openness to our relationships.

We can only truly learn to say “no” by becoming more self-assertive. It means knowing our limits and being able to communicate those limits to other people effectively. Being self-assertive does not mean we will always get our way and we should be able to compromise.

Being self-assertive means we are able to:

  • Verbalise facts and are honest
  • Defuse anger
  • Stand up for our rights
  • Look for solutions

When we practise being more self-assertive, we must respect the rights of others to assert themselves as well. Even when we decide to remain silent in certain situations, we are asserting ourselves. Being self-assertive is a process that calls for self-awareness and practice. Learning to say no is a process in which we develop or assertiveness and Emotional Intelligence.learning to say no at work

Strategies to follow when you want to be more self-assertive:

  • First, become aware of your immediate feelings (are they negative or positive?);
  • Take time out if you cannot identify your feelings;
  • Compare what you want or the other person’s suggestion with your values;
  • Consider the price/consequences and ask yourself what price you’ll have to pay if you comply;
  • Decide if you want to reach a compromise;
  • Tell the person about your decision – stand up straight, make eye contact and don’t offer explanations. Simply state your decision. Be specific;
  • It is often a good idea to change the subject immediately after you have said “no” as people will sometimes use that time as an opportunity to try and change your mind.

Learning to say no at work Learning to say no is not always easy as we don’t want to disappoint people or be seen as uncooperative. Remember that you need to identify your limits so that saying “yes” against your better judgment doesn’t leave you feeling misused or unhappy.


Coach and facilitator at One Clear Message
Lelaine is an Emotional Intelligence (EQ) specialist. As an emotional intelligence coach and facilitator, Lelaine understands that performance outcomes are driven by the level of EI mastery in an organisation.

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